well, i landed back at Heathrow this morning after spending the best holiday of my life in Melbourne and Sydney (and 3 nights in Hong Kong en route). I first found this fantastic forum back in November last year when planning my once in a lifetime experience with my 9 year old son, and I'd just like to say how helpful and informative everyone has been in assisting with ensuring that we did this properly.
Having been one of those people who really didn't have a clue where to start, I thought a brief report of our trip might help anyone else planning to bring children to this magical country.
we flew with Virgin from Heathrow to Sydney, via Hong Kong, and found the service faultless and completely child friendly. The inflight entertainment system kept George amused for the whole trip - movies on tap and computer games with his own console. Can thoroughly recommend them.
Nothing can prepare you for the sight of the sunrise over Australia for the first time after 20 hours of darkness, and the view of Sydney harbour in the early morning light, if you're lucky enough to approach Sydney airport from that direction. we got a little confused at Sydney International trying to find the bus for the domestic terminal but both people we asked for directions were extremely helpful, and one man even offered to help with our luggage. we immediately transferred on Virgin Blue down to Melbourne (again, a great service where they board families first), and were in my friend's house in Mount Waverley (suburb of Melbourne) 36 hours after we left the uk. My son didn't suffer from jetlag at all on the first day, and I think this was due to us spending most of that day in the swimming pool in the glorious sunshine.
we spent 10 days in Melbourne, which in hindsight I think was too much as I'd only allowed 3 days to see Sydney and we needed much more time for this. However, I was visiting a childhood friend who I hadn't seen in 2 years since she had the foresight to up sticks and emmigrate to melbourne so it was nice to catch up with her. Key highlights for us were:
the fantastic atmosphere in Melbourne for the closing of the commonwealth games - even though the streets were heaving with people, everyone was having a good time and we never felt unsafe at any point. Congratulations, Melbourne, on a brilliant closing ceremony. we felt very honoured to be part of that.
a trip to Philip Island to see the penguins returning to the beach at dusk, and spending the following day on the beach tackling the surf waves - my son loved this whole experience.
Melbourne museum and the imax theatre - some fantastic exhibits and the most brilliant rainforest - one of the only museums that has held my son's interest for the entire trip.
Melbourne Gaol to see Ned Kelly's death mask - very eerie experience.
Melbourne aquarium - we caught the train into the city and walked along the banks of the Yarra - we then went up the Rialto tower for some great views of Melbourne and the coast (and some great cakes).
Gelati from one of the south banks many cafes
Shopping in the toy department of Myer - transformers and lego at much reduced prices than the uk. I managed to ditch my son on one day (when he experienced a day at Mount waverley school with my friend's son) and we then hit Chadstone Mall with a vengence - can thoroughly recommend that for a bit of retail therapy.
Girls night out at Manchester Lane - great restaurant/bar with live music - food was impressive and the music great for dancing to for a couple of 40 something women who still think they're 18.
The public transport system in Melbourne was great - clean trains that get you anywhere you want to go.
we then headed off for Sydney, again with Virgin Blue, which we had booked in advance in the uk. we stayed at Manly beach which was, for us, the perfect solution to the problem of whether to stay at the beach or in the city. i think we definitely got the best of both worlds here and nothing could be more perfect than putting a tired child to bed and then sitting on the balcony with a glass of something very cold, watching the ocean - bliss. we got a taxi from Sydney airport, driven by the nicest man who gave us a mini guided tour as we drove to our appartment. Going across Sydney harbour bridge with our first real view of the opera house is a sight that shall remain with me forever. Manly beach, granted it was just out of season, was perfect - the beach was clean, unspoiled, safe and had some amazing rollers which my son and I enjoyed with body boards on our first day there, which we rented from a surf shop on the seafront. we had booked an apartment through Manly Paradise Motel(manlyparadise.com.au)
in the Ocean Royale building. The apartment faced the beach and was perfect - clean, modern, beautifully finished and quiet, with the added benefit of a lovely swimming pool and spa. I could have lived there. It was a short walk from there to Manly wharf to catch the ferry to Circular quay. we would have breakfast at one of the many seafront cafes (huge emphasis on healthy eating here - lots of smoothies), and then head out for the day. Sydney, without doubt, is somewhere I would want to revisit time and time again. we didn't do it justice with only having 3 days there, but we managed to see the aquarium, Talonga zoo (can thorougly recommend this for children - the skyride on the cable car is a great start to the day), Sydney tower (the Oztrek experience was great), monorail, opera house (even a 9 year old boy was impressed with this)and Darling Harbour. we had one sticky moment where we got the ferry to Lunar Park, only to get off 2 minutes before it closed (my fault - should have checked the times). we then had to wait for an hour before another ferry came to take us back to circular quay. so we walked up the hill and got the train, again assisted by very helpful locals who gave us directions.
There are very few places that have reduced me to tears on leaving, but Sydney did it for me. This was supposed to be a once in a lifetime trip, but I am definitely coming back.
I am very envious of anyone who is planning to visit Sydney/Melbourne for the first time in the future - you will have the most amazing experience - my one piece of advice would be to make sure you really make the most of your time there - it goes so quickly and there is so much to do, so plan as much as you can before you go and take advantage of this brilliant forum to pick the brains of people who live there and really know what they're talking about.